IV. Warning and Conspiracy

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The first clear indication of increased peril to LUSITANIA was the extraordinary notice placed in American newspapers by the German Embassy on 1 May 1915, the day the Cunarder sailed: "Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk."

In retrospect it seems clear that this warning, and the known presence of U- boats in LUSITANIA's path, should have induced a far greater sense of alarm in the British--in the Admiralty, the Cunard Line, and in Captain Turner on the bridge of LUSITANIA. Several authors, most notably Colin Simpson, go beyond this to claim that the Admiralty, and in particular First Lord Winston Churchill, conspired to put LUSITANIA in danger in hopes of sparking an incident that might lead to American entry into the war. While this allegation directly occupies only a few pages of Simpson's book, it is this charge which won him such great attention. Patrick Beesly, a well known historian of British naval intelligence, supports most of Simpson's charges in his "Room 40."

As we approach the actual sinking of LUSITANIA, a map might be helpful in visualizing the movements of the liner and her attacker:

[LUSI Map]
Based on the map in Simpson's Lusitania

What we have is the southern coast of Ireland, running roughly WSW-ENE. Fastnet is a rock off the southwestern tip of Ireland, a well-known navigational landmark. Roughly forty nautical miles east-northeast of Fastnet is the Old Head of Kinsale; LUSITANIA went down about twelve miles off this promontory. A few miles east- northeast of Kinsale is Queenstown (now Cobh), the main British naval base in the area. Roughly fifty miles east-northeast of Queenstown is Coningbeg Lightship. A few miles beyond that is the entrance to St. George's Channel and the Irish Sea, leading to Liverpool, LUSITANIA's destination.


On 25 April 1915 Fregattenkapitan (Commander) Herman Bauer of the 3rd Submarine Flotilla ordered three of his boats to British waters: U-30 to the Dartmouth area, U-20 and U-27 to the Irish Sea and Bristol Channel. Simpson ties this order directly to the impending sailing of LUSITANIA. Referring to British preparations for the voyage, Simpson writes that "Somehow the German Admiralty learned of these moves, and early on the morning of 24 April Fregattenkapitan Bauer...was summoned to the flagship in Wilhelmshaven." He provides no documentation to relate this conference or the German deployment to the impending voyage of LUSITANIA.

Simpson states that Bauer's deployment order to U-30 (the other two boats were still in port and received written or verbal orders) was "almost certainly" intercepted and deciphered by the Admiralty, which might well be true. He says, with ominous implication, that no copy was sent to Queenstown (now Cobh), the main Royal Navy base along LUSITANIA's track on the southern coast of Ireland. "Certainly both Naval Intelligence and the Admiralty War Staff knew not only of the U-boats' presence, but also of their mission, for Bauer's message to the U-30 had been explicit. However, it had not occurred to anybody to send a warning to the LUSITANIA."

The deployment order to U-30 is quoted in full in Bauer's diary and Simpson's book: "Await large English troop transports coming out from west and south coasts of England. Head via the most rapid route around Scotland for the English Channel. Take position in front of Dartmouth. Attack transports merchant vessels warships. Keep position occupied for as long as supplies allow. U-20 and U-27 to Irish Sea and Bristol Channel. Ends." This, to Colin Simpson, constitutes an explicit warning that LUSITANIA was to be targeted, or so he implies. In fact, as Bailey and Ryan state, there is no evidence at all that the Germans made a premeditated effort to sink the liner. Furthermore, LUSITANIA received abundant warning of the presence of submarines in the area, a matter to be discussed later. [Simpson, pp. 93-94, ch. 7, and page 119, ch. 9; Bailey and Ryan, pp. 117-18]

U-30 was the first of the three submarines to reach her station, and made her first sinking on 28 April. On 1 May, the day LUSITANIA sailed, U-30 was involved in an incident that in a small way foreshadowed the diplomatic uproar over the sinking of the Cunarder. She torpedoed the American tanker GULFLIGHT, killing three of her crew; the ship was heavily damaged but survived. As a ship under armed escort GULFLIGHT was legally subject to unwarned attack, and the submarine commander stated that he did not see the tanker's neutral markings. The second submarine, U-27, was forced to return home with jammed bow planes. After U-30 turned for home on 4 May, U-20 was the only boat of the three on station.

U-20 was commanded by Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger, a successful and popular commander. She sailed from Emden on 30 April. She would round Scotland and Ireland to the north and then pass down the west coast of Ireland before turning east toward the Irish Channel. On 3 May, while west of the Orkneys, Schwieger spotted a small steamer with a Danish flag but no neutral markings. Assuming that she was British, Schwieger attempted to attack but the torpedo tube malfunctioned. On 4 May Schwieger tried to attack a ship that he himself described as Swedish, HIBERNIA, but was not able to get into position. On 5 May U-20 rounded the southwestern tip of Ireland. Near the Old Head of Kinsale she sighted a small schooner, EARL OF LATHOM. Schwieger allowed the crew to abandon ship before sinking the vessel.

On the late afternoon of 5 May U-20 sighted a ship that Schwieger described as "Norwegian with neutral signs," but decided that the neutral signs were in an unusual position; Simpson says only that Schwieger "attacked another steamer." U-20's torpedo missed. [Simpson, p. 133, ch. 10; Bailey and Ryan, p. 124]

Schwieger had consistently attacked ships with neutral markings with no hesitation. It is true that early in the war British ships had used neutral flags for cover, but under the protest of neutrals this practice seems to have ended by this point. There was a great deal of genuine neutral shipping, particularly Norwegian and Dutch, in the waters of northern Europe, but Schwieger seems to have been utterly indifferent to the identity or character of the ships he attacked. This trait was not universal among U-boat skippers; there were U-boat commanders who conducted their operations with as much humanity as possible under the circumstances, but Schwieger was not among them. Simpson states that "Schwieger was a more cautious seaman than von Rosenberg [captain of U-30], and was not so inclined to give any potential target the benefit of the doubt. His personal record would indicate that he was both more ruthless and more easily frightened." In February 1915 he had knowingly attacked the British hospital ship ASTURIAS, claiming that since it was sailing out of England it could not have been carrying wounded. Even Simpson describes this as "flimsy logic at best," the closest he comes in his entire book to criticism of a German action on moral grounds. A deliberate attack on a hospital ship is an extraordinary action for any nation in any conflict; this is one taboo that has not been eroded in the twentieth-century trend toward unrestricted warfare at sea. Even in the Second World War such incidents were extremely rare, although they did occur (e.g. the Luftwaffe attacked several British hospital ships off Sicily and Salerno and sank two of them; a kamikaze crashed USS COMFORT during the Okinawa campaign) [Simpson, p. 138, ch. 11; Bailey and Ryan, pp. 115, 252]

Bailey and Ryan summarize Schwieger in this way: "As a man who habitually carried out his orders to the letter, he was not a conspicuously humane officer. Yet he was far from being the most ruthless of the German submarine commanders and evidently was never accused of such atrocities as deliberately drowning, bombing, or machine-gunning survivors who were scrambling into small boats." It should be added that, contrary to what Bailey and Ryan's passage might unintentionally imply, there are few known cases of such atrocities by U-boats ( it is also worth noting that, while Simpson suggests at one point that there was an Admiralty policy of slaughtering helpless U-boat sailors, there is no evidence for this either, although there is at least one known incident--[note 1].) [Bailey and Ryan, pp. 114-15; Simpson p. 40, ch. 2, and pp. 137- 38, ch. 11]

Schwieger sank two more ships before meeting LUSITANIA. On the morning of 6 May he met the Harrison Line steamer CANDIDATE thirteen miles southeast of Coningbeg Light. He opened up with guns, then allowed the crew to escape after the ship hove to. In the afternoon U- 20 spotted CENTURION, another Harrison Line ship, about seventeen miles south of the lightship; Schwieger torpedoed her without warning. After this encounter Schwieger decided to remain in the area, rather than pushing on to Liverpool in accordance with his orders. The fog would hinder his visibility, leaving him vulnerable to British ships patrolling St. George's Channel and the Liverpool approaches; he would probably be forced to transit submerged. He believed also that if he went into the Irish Sea he would have insufficient fuel to return to Germany. Finally, U-20 had only three torpedoes remaining, and standing orders dictated that two be kept in reserve for the return transit. [Bailey and Ryan, pp. 123-27]


By 1 May, the day LUSITANIA sailed, the Admiralty was aware that a group of U-boats was en route to British waters. Bauer's deployment order to U-30, sent about 25 April, had been decoded by Room 40. On 30 April, U-20 tested her radio on departure from base, and this too was intercepted. Simpson states that on 1 May Room 40, the Admiralty's intelligence center, informed the Admiralty War Staff and coastal stations that three submarines were en route to the Irish Sea; by 4 May he specifically indicates that Queenstown had been notified of the danger. Beesly claims that only the Grand Fleet was given this information, and that the major coastal stations along LUSITANIA's track--Queenstown, Liverpool, and Milford Haven on the Welsh side of the St. George's Channel--were not told. [Simpson, p. 94n, ch. 7; pages 115, 119, chapter 9; Beesly, pp. 97-99]

British forces were not well positioned to counter the threat. Rear Admiral Sir Charles Coke, the commander at Queenstown, had a motley assemblage of small craft, armed trawlers and the like, with which to patrol a considerable expanse of sea. He had no destroyers. The only substantial warship at Queenstown there was the old cruiser JUNO, flying the flag of Rear Admiral Sir Horace Hood of Cruiser Force E, a collection of old cruisers and patrol craft [note 2]. Simpson contends that JUNO was initially detailed to escort LUSITANIA, and that Turner was so briefed in New York just before departing. This matter is discussed in more detail below. [Simpson, p. 113, ch. 9]


On 5 May occurred the Admiralty conference which Colin Simpson sees as the key to a conspiracy to encourage an incident that would enrage America and bring her into the war on the side of the Allies.In attendance were, according to Simpson: Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty; Admiral Jack Fisher, First Sea Lord; Vice Admiral Henry Oliver, Chief of the War Staff; Captain Reginald "Blinker" Hall, Director of Naval Intelligence; and Commander (actually Lieutenant Commander) Joseph Kenworthy, a subordinate of Hall's. [main source for this section is Simpson, pp. 125-29 in the Penguin edition, chapter 10]

In Simpson's account, Oliver first briefed his superiors on the status of enemy and Allied forces. After mentioning JUNO, then at sea, he "drew to Churchill's attention the fact that the JUNO was unsuitable for exposure to submarine attack without escort, and suggested that elements of the destroyer flotilla from Milford Haven should be sent forthwith to her assistance. At this juncture the Admiralty War Diary stops short, perhaps understandably as it was here that the decision was taken that was to be the direct cause of the disaster. No one alive today knows who took it, but Churchill and Fisher must share the responsibility. Shortly after noon on 5 May the Admiralty signalled the JUNO to abandon her escort mission and return to Queenstown....The LUSITANIA was not informed that she was now alone, and closing every minute to the U-20. Admiral Coke at Queenstown was informed of the order and instructed to protect the LUSITANIA as best he could. Coke in his turn did not warn the LUSITANIA."

Captain Hall, Simpson states, "queried the decision, but with whom it is impossible to state positively. It was an incredible decision by any standards and can only be explained on two grounds. Firstly, that both Churchill and Fisher were so preoccupied with the Dardanelles and their personal problems that they failed to appreciate it; or secondly, that it was the pinnacle of Churchill's higher strategy of embroiling the U-boats with a neutral power."

The only hint of positive evidence of such a conspiracy comes from Simpson's invocation of the account of Lieutenant Commander Kenworthy, who allegedly left the room disgusted by the proceedings and in 1927 suggested in his book, "Freedom of the Seas," that LUSITANIA was deliberately exposed to German submarines. "Kenworthy's is the only eyewitness account of that morning in the map room..." Simpson's story of Kenworthy raises extremely serious questions, and is discussed in more detail in the next section..

This vaguely sourced account is the core of Simpson's case that LUSITANIA was deliberately exposed. Apart from the hints allegedly provided by Lieutenant Commander Kenworthy, Simpson bases his case entirely on inference and especially on the withdrawal of JUNO from her alleged escort mission.As Bailey and Ryan point out, Simpson gives no documentation for his assertion that JUNO was meant to escort LUSITANIA, and no evidence for this claim has ever surfaced. Turner at the coroner's inquest immediately after the sinking specifically stated that he knew nothing of any plans for an escort. JUNO was singularly ill-suited for the role--a cruiser commissioned in 1897, with a top speed when new of 19.5 knots, below even LUSITANIA's reduced top speed. Even Patrick Beesly, who is fundamentally in accord with Simpson's conspiracy theme, concedes that JUNO makes no sense as an escort and that Hood's Force E, of which JUNO was flagship, "were in no sense anti-submarine ships, indeed they were tempting targets for any U-boat. Their mission was to act against any armed merchant raider or bold blockade breaker which might appear, and to pass on directions to inward-bound British merchant ships." Beesly further states that JUNO's return to port on 5 May was a normal rotation of patrol ships and that her relief, the boarding vessel PARTRIDGE, was just as ill- suited as the cruiser to the mission of antisubmarine escort. [Simpson, p. 113, ch. 9 and passim; Bailey and Ryan, pp. 174, 196; Beesly, pp. 96, 104, 110; Beesly is conspicuously silent about the conference of 5 May]

Simpson's own account of this 5 May conference at one crucial point contradicts his entire thesis. This passage bears repeating. After telling us that LUSITANIA was not informed of the withdrawal of JUNO, Simpson says that: "Admiral Coke at Queenstown was informed of the order and instructed to protect the LUSITANIA as best he could. Coke in his turn did not warn LUSITANIA." To ask the glaringly obvious question--if Churchill and Fisher wanted LUSITANIA to be sunk, why did they tell Coke to protect her? What is the significance of the failure of the Admiralty to contact LUSITANIA directly, if Coke was perfectly free to do so and, by inference, would have been expected to do so? If Coke himself was either a lethargic fool or a tool of this conspiracy, why does Simpson subsequently have him frantically trying to bring LUSITANIA into Queenstown to protect her from submarine attack?


Simpson's account of the Admiralty conference of 5 May is the heart of his conspiracy theory; his description of Lieutenant Commander Kenworthy's reactions is his only trace of positive evidence for such a theory. Simpson states that Kenworthy was "then working in the political section of Naval Intelligence," and gives this account of his response to the events of the conference: "Commander Kenworthy, who was not called on to speak in such august company, was wondering why he had been summoned in the first place. His only previous contact with Churchill had been when he had submitted a paper at Churchill's request on the political results of an ocean liner being sunk with American passengers on board. He did not know if Churchill had even read it, but had naturally supposed that in the turmoil caused by the torpedoing of the GULFLIGHT this was why he was required for the conference. What was said will never be known, but Kenworthy left that meeting in the map room disgusted by the cynicism of his superiors. In 1927 he gave a hint of what did transpire in his book 'The Freedom of the Seas.' 'The LUSITANIA', he wrote, ' was sent at considerably reduced speed into an area where a U- boat w as known to be waiting and with her escorts withdrawn.' [Simpson here inserts a footnote, citing p. 211 of the book as his source and stating that "The original manuscript stated 'was *deliberately* sent'. The word 'deliberately' was deleted after representations from the Admiralty to Messrs Hutchinson, the publishers."] Their Lordships, he concluded, had obviously decided to let the international legality and success of the German U-boat offensive be tested in the court of public opinion. Kenworthy's is the only eyewitness account of that morning in the map room, and if responsibility is to be apportioned, then at this stage it must be the reader's decision." [Simpson, pp. 128-29 of the Penguin edition, ch. 10]

Lieutenant Commander Joseph M. Kenworthy was not a conventional naval officer. After the war he left the Royal Navy and became first a Liberal and then a Labour MP, until losing his seat in the general election of 1931. He strongly questioned the traditional British form of naval war and even described himself as a pacifist, although it is clear from the context and other statements that he was using the term in a rather loose sense ("The authors are pacifists, but no more so than most of their countrymen and many professional sailors and soldiers"). At some point between the wars he assumed the title of Lord Strabolgi (in which name his books are sometimes listed). Whatever his pacifist inclinations after the First World War, he like many others changed his mind by 1939, and during the Second World War wrote several books strongly supportive of the Royal Navy and the war effort (e.g. "Narvik and After: A Study of the Scandinavian Campaign," and "From Gibraltar to Suez: The Battle of the Middle Sea," published in 1940 and 1941 respectively).

In his earlier, more radical days, however, Kenworthy did indeed suggest that LUSITANIA had been deliberately exposed. In 1928 Kenworthy and George Young wrote "Freedom of the Seas," a broad philosophical tract in which the authors urged an end to Britain's traditional strategies of blockade and pleaded for Anglo-American concord on the free and peaceful use of the seas; page 211, cited by Simpson, is a part of this plea for trans-Atlantic amity and has no remote bearing on the LUSITANIA incident. The sentence quoted by Simpson, the one allegedly altered at the behest of the Admiralty, does not appear anywhere in the book; it is conceivable that it was included in some printings, although after examining three copies of the book, in both the British and American editions, this seems highly unlikely. There is, however, a passage that comes close. Kenworthy and Young (page 72) justify the German submarine campaign as a retaliation against the British food blockade, yet state that it was a foolish move because it antagonized neutrals, especially America. "The British did not retaliate in kind and no neutral ship was ever sunk by a British mine or submarine. There was no need for it and they knew a trick worth two of that. They let a test case go before the Court of public opinion. The LUSITANIA steaming at half-speed straight through a submarine cruising ground was incontinently sunk." Leaving aside Kenworthy and Young's errors of fact or logic (LUSITANIA was steaming at much more than half speed, and her speed in any case was solely at her captain's discretion), the crucial point is that this passage comes in the context of a broad political discussion of the war, with no hint of personal recollection or inside knowledge. While Kenworthy clearly does not like Winston Churchill, regarding him as a reactionary militarist, nowhere in his book does he mention any personal contact with him during the war.

A careful reading of Simpson's passage on Kenworthy will indicate that he does not unambiguously attribute his "eyewitness account" of the 5 May conference to the book "Freedom of the Seas." His passages on Kenworthy's impressions, as well as his ostensible knowledge of correspondence between the publisher and the Admiralty, are suggestive of access to Kenworthy's private papers and probably to his family--although it does seem odd that Kenworthy would leave a written or verbal account detailing his inner sentiments on the conference while leaving unsaid the actual details of that meeting, for as Simpson states, "What was said will never be known." Furthermore, it would seem that an author with access of this sort would at some point become aware that Kenworthy had published an autobiography, very much different from his "Freedom of the Seas."

In 1933, two years after leaving Parliament, Kenworthy published "Sailors, Statesmen--and Others: An Autobiography." This book gives an account of Kenworthy's wartime career that is seriously at variance with that of Colin Simpson, who describes Kenworthy as an officer "in the political section of Naval Intelligence." Kenworthy spent a year ashore in c. 1906-1907 doing courses at Greenwich and Portsmouth. This year "was the only period of my time in the Navy not spent afloat, until I joined the Admiralty War Staff as one of the original Plans Division in 1916, with the exception of a short war course in 1913.". In about late 1912 or early 1913 he was given command of destroyer BULLFINCH. He reiterates his earlier contention: "I also applied, and was accepted, to qualify in the newly introduced War Staff course [the aforementioned 1913 course], and this was my only spell of shore service after leaving Greenwich as an acting sub-lieutenant until my appointment on the Admiralty War Staff in August 1916." [Kenworthy, "Sailors, Statesmen--and Others," pp. 34-35, 47]

"I was still in command of this destroyer and at sea off our east coast when war was declared in August 1914." Kenworthy describes a collision with a Dutch ship in which four men were killed; he was absolved of blame but after the war his political enemies attempted to use the incident against him. "I finished the first five months of the war on much the same kind of patrol work and then, with the same BULLFINCH, joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. There we carried out the normal work of a destroyer attached to the Battle Fleet," and he then describes an encounter with a U-boat. His time in BULLFINCH came to an end; Kenworthy quotes a farewell plaque presented by the crew, dated October 1915. He then did a short spell as second lieutenant and turret officer in a battleship before joining the Admiralty War Staff in August 1916. [Kenworthy, pp. 47-53]

Kenworthy, by the time of this writing, was a politician of somewhat leftist views who had already expressed in print his suspicions that LUSITANIA had been the victim of an Admiralty conspiracy. To believe Colin Simpson's account of Kenworthy's role in the conference of 5 May 1915, one must believe that such a man would cooperate in a cover-up of this conspiracy not merely by omitting mention of it, but by completely falsifying the first two years of his war record- -this although there were unquestionably several hundred men still alive in 1933 who had served with Kenworthy or were in a position to know whether he had served in the destroyer flotillas of the Grand Fleet in 1914-1915.

This extremely serious discrepancy between Kenworthy's autobiography and Colin Simpson's book has not, to the best of my knowledge, been previously reported. When I found this I determined that before mentioning it elsewhere I owed Mr. Simpson a chance to respond to the questions inevitably raised. I had two brief phone conversations with his agents and then faxed to them, for relay to Mr. Simpson, a letter in which I laid out the essence of the story above and asked him to give his sources for the Kenworthy matter and for the contention that JUNO was initially assigned to escort LUSITANIA. I made clear in this letter that I intended to discuss this matter in a semi-public electronic forum on the weekend of 20-21 March 1999 (which proved over- optimisitic). Mr. Simpson did not respond.

After giving Mr. Simpson's story every reasonable benefit of the doubt and affording him the opportunity to address it, I am left with the following logic. The veracity of Colin Simpson's version of Lieutenant Commander Kenworthy's story, the only positive evidence he presents for the conspiracy, rests on these assumptions:

Each of these circumstances, with the possible exception of the second, is extremely unlikely. The cumulative probabilty of this chain of events is infinitesimally small.

In a matter of lesser importance, one might choose to overlook a misrepresentation of this kind or to treat it with tasteful euphemisms. In this case, where such evidence is presented in support of a false allegation of treachery and mass murder, no such indulgence is possible: Colin Simpson's account of the Admiralty conference of 5 May 1915--and in particular, of Lieutenant Commander Kenworthy's presence at this meeting and impressions thereof--is almost certainly a fabrication.

The two most important questions involved in the failure to protect LUSITANIA are the absence of escorts and the adequacy of the warnings given to the liner; these will now be examined in somewhat more detail.


Patrick Beesly, while rejecting Simpson's JUNO tale, is highly suspicious of the failure of the Admiralty to assign escorts to LUSITANIA. Four destroyers--LEGION, LUCIFER, LINNET, and LAVEROCK--were at Milford Haven off the entrance to the Bristol Channel, about a hundred miles from Queenstown. Beesly sees the failure to employ them as evidence of a conspiracy to leave LUSITANIA to her fate.

Beesly and Simpson both ignore an important point stressed by Bailey and Ryan. By coming under armed escort LUSITANIA would lose her protected status as a merchantman under international law, and a submarine would be under no legal obligation to warn her before attacking. This was by no means a moot point or an anachronism. The Germans had not yet sunk a large liner, and there is good reason to believe that there were many U-boat captains who would have shown far more hesitancy than Schwieger in attacking what was obviously a large passenger steamer. That being said, the British certainly could have assigned more ships to patrol along LUSITANIA's track without directly escorting the liner. [Bailey and Ryan, p. 41]

Beesly tells us that the four destroyers (as well as two Q-ships, a peculiar choice of for an escort or regular patrol in any case) "remained inexplicably inactive." In these same pages he notes that on 5 May these four destroyers had completed eight consecutive nights of operations, escorting the movement of the Irish Division from Dublin to Liverpool for eventual shipment to the Dardanelles. The destroyers put in to Milford Haven on the afternoon of 6 May. They were scheduled to rendezvous with the dreadnought COLOSSUS (where is not stated) at midday on 8 May and escort her to Devonport. Beesly apparently has no conception of the strain on men and materiel of eight successive nights at sea on a 1000-ton destroyer, with barely enough time for fueling and maintenance before putting out again to escort the battleship; this is not a rate of operations that justifies the phrase "inexplicable inactivity." In retrospect the Admiralty should have recognized the grave threat to LUSITANIA and postponed the movement of COLOSSUS, but this misjudgement falls rather short of the standard of evidence required to accuse the leadership of the Royal Navy of the deliberate mass murder of their countrymen.

In fact the destroyer forces of the Royal Navy were severely overextended, and Beesly himself provides much indication of this. Troop convoys always have the highest priority and the strongest escorts of any shipping, yet in the spring of 1915 even they were being cancelled for lack of destroyers. Beesly says that on 29 March the Admiralty told the Canadian authorities that after 7 May no convoys of Canadian troops could be accepted "due to the difficulty of providing ocean escorts, a very thin excuse." Beesly does not attempt to tell us why this was a feeble excuse. More puzzling still, he does not tell us why the Admiralty would desire an excuse to refuse the Canadian troops, the British Government presumably not being averse to a major reinforcement of the BEF. This seems in fact a rather transparent effort by Beesly to dodge the implications of his own evidence that the British were in reality desperately short of destroyers. There are further indications of this shortage: Beesly states that on 23 April all troop movements to and from the British Isles were stopped, with the exception of the aforementioned transfer of the Irish Division; Bailey and Ryan note that two weeks after the sinking of LUSITANIA the Royal Navy was forced to send destroyers on a 600-mile passage from Harwich to Liverpool to provide an escort for her sister MAURETANIA, which was taking troops to the Mediterranean.

In retrospect it is clear that there should have been greater alarm on the part of all concerned on the British side--LUSITANIA should have been rerouted or ordered into Queenstown; more ships should have been put on patrol. Such acts of omission can be discerned in the wake of most disasters. To find in such apparent laxity a deliberate, murderous conspiracy is, in the absence of serious evidence, grossly irresponsible. Beesly provides no evidence for such perfidy and in fact provides a great deal of evidence against his own thesis. [Sources for this section: Beesly, pp. 101-8; Bailey and Ryan, p. 183]


We have already noted that by Simpson's own account of the 5 May conference, Admiral Coke was instructed to protect LUSITANIA. The liner further received a series of warnings in the two days before her sinking, a circumstance hard to reconcile with a deliberate Admiralty effort to ensure her destruction.

The sinking of the schooner EARL OF LATHOM on 5 May indicated that at least one U-boat was active off the south coast of Ireland. At 1205 on 6 May the Admiralty addressed a message to all British ships, reading: "Between South Foreland and Folkestone keep within two miles of shore and pass between the two light vessels. Take Liverpool pilot at bar. Avoid headlands; pass harbours at full speed; steer mid-channel course. Submarines off Fastnet" (this message also has a bearing on the dispute over Captain Turner's responsibility for the disaster, discussed in a later section). LUSITANIA received this message at 2005. It was repeated six times the following day. At 1952 on 6 May Queenstown, apparently on its own initiative, sent a plain- language message reading "Submarines active off south coast of Ireland," which LUSITANIA received and acknowledged. In the meantime U-20 sank two ships off Coningbeg Light on 6 May, as previously related: CANDIDATE at 0740 and CENTURION at 1430. [Bailey and Ryan, pp. 133-35]

On LUSITANIA's final day there were several efforts to warn her; in some cases the details are murky. Alfred Booth, chairman of Cunard, was--belatedly perhaps--becoming gravely concerned about the peril to his prize liner. Sometime on the morning of 7 May he visited Rear Admiral Stileman, the Senior Naval Officer Liverpool. Bailey and Ryan state that he asked that a wireless be sent to LUSITANIA informing her of the sinking of the two ships off Coningbeg Light. Simpson says that Booth "demanded that steps be taken to warn the LUSITANIA. Booth was always reticent as to what Stileman agreed to do, but he came away from that office convinced that the LUSITANIA was to be diverted into Queenstown. He telephoned his cousin George and told him so, and George Booth sent a telegram to Paul Crompton aboard the LUSITANIA to await him at the Cunard office at Queenstown. [Simpson here inserts a footnote stating Booth's autobiography, p. 149, as his source]. The telegram told him to disembark there and come directly to London via Fishguard on the Irish packet. Alfred Booth, until the time he died, would only concede that Stileman had agreed to take certain steps, but that the tragedy occurred before they could be put into execution." I have not checked Booth's autobiography, but it seems inconsistent to cite this work as the source for the contention that Booth believed his ship was to be diverted to Queenstown, then two sentences later to say that Booth would never explicitly state just what Stileman had agreed to do. [Bailey and Ryan, p. 136; Simpson, p. 145, ch. 11]

Simpson then goes on to state that about 1100 Rear Admiral Coke spoke with the Admiralty and with Stileman. "There is no record of what was said, but Coke has stated that he asked for permission to divert the LUSITANIA and could not get a firm decision. He was told to make sure that the LUSITANIA got the Admiralty message addressed to all British merchant ships which warned of a submarine having been seen twenty miles south of Coningbeg." Simpson does not give a source for this contention. Again, not for the first or last time, he mentions in passing an effort to warn LUSITANIA without addressing its inconsistency with his conspiracy theme. Simpson then alleges that Coke made an effort to bring LUSITANIA into Queenstown for her protection, a peculiar story discussed separately in the next section. [p. 145, ch. 11]

Beesly, too, has a story of attempted diversion. Claiming that several messages between LUSITANIA and the Admiralty are missing from the records, he contends that "there is some reason to suppose that they included a request from Turner to divert to the North Channel [around the north of Ireland] rather than use St. George's Channel, and that this request was refused." Beesly provides no documentation or supporting argument for this theory. [Beesly, p. 105]

One final and important warning message reached LUSITANIA on the fatal day, sent by the Admiralty via Queenstown and the wireless station at Valencia, Ireland, and acknowledged by the Cunarder at 1152: "Submarines active in southern part Irish Channel. Last heard of twenty miles south of Coningbeg Lightship. MAKE CERTAIN LUSITANIA GETS THIS" [emphasis added]. Simpson does not dispute the existence of this message and in fact quotes it in full, including the closing admonition. But in an effort to avoid the obvious inconsistency of this warning with his conspiracy theory, he contends that "that position was by now twenty-eight hours old," and did not convey four further sightings since dawn of 7 May. Simpson gives no documentation for these later sightings. He provides no evidence that anyone on the British side knew that U-20 had moved southwest from Coningbeg Light toward the Old Head of Faslane. He provides no evidence that the position given in this message of 1152, closely corresponding to that in which CANDIDATE and CENTURION were sunk on 6 May, was not the last known position of the German submarine.

Beesly, too, cannot succesfully reconcile this succession of warning messages with his belief that the Admiralty plotted the destruction of LUSITANIA. He makes the utterly inexplicable statement that Captain Turner "was not specifically warned of U-boat danger," followed by the frankly lame argument that the warning messages were not addressed specifically to LUSITANIA--as if that makes any difference when these messages were addressed to all British ships and LUSITANIA is known to have received and acknowledged them. He does not mention the closing admonition in the message received by LUSITANIA at 1152 on 7 May. [Beesly, p. 116]


Simpson then goes to an aspect of his story that does not make sense even on its own terms, let alone in relation to any external evidence. Coke sent a message of some sort at 1102. At first Simpson seems to state that this was a directive to his own patrol forces. In an effort to reposition his forces to bolster his submarine patrols, Coke's message directed the tug HELLESPONT to return to Queenstown, because her escort, the yacht SCADAUN, was to search for U-boats. Because of a callsign mix-up, LUSITANIA believed the message was for her, telling her to enter Queenstown. Captain Turner "to the end of his life...was adamant that it instructed him to divert into Queenstown. In the event the LUSITANIA was probably diverted by accident. Possibly it was design and was Coke's way of trying to ensure her safety; for his message to the tug HELLESPONT was certainly sent to the LUSITANIA." In response to this message, Turner at 1215 (note the time) "swung the LUSITANIA to port so violently that several passengers lost their balance and chaos was created in the galleys below. The LUSITANIA headed for the shore."

After at first stating that this message of 1102 was probably not actually intended for LUSITANIA, Simpson from this point until the end of his book treats it as an established fact that Coke ordered LUSITANIA into Queenstown and that the Admiralty engaged in a monstrous cover-up of the order. He indeed sees this message as the key to Mersey hearings; when Mersey suddenly realized that this message had been hidden, he belatedly recognized the Admiralty plot to frame Captain Turner. After the sinking, Admiral Oliver had omitted "this vital signal" from a list of messages in the material prepared for the inquiry. The Board of Trade had drafted a question, "What wireless messages if any were received by or transmitted from the LUSITANIA on or during the voyage in question?" Simpson says that "the Admiralty committee, realizing that this would expose Coke's critical signal, amended this to: 'Were any messages sent or received by the LUSITANIA with reference to enemy submarines during the voyage?'".

It is impossible to understand Simpson's obsession with this message and its alleged cover-up, or in what respect he thinks it contributes to his own thesis (other than a theme of cover-up for the sake of cover-up). One plausible motive for such concealment would be that the Admiralty was embarrassed by the contrast between Coke's diligence and its own lethargy, but Simpson does not even state that. If the Admiralty desired to hide a diabolical plot to bring LUSITANIA into U- 20's sights, it would hardly seem logical for it to go to such great lengths to hide an order intended to bring her to safety, even if the directive was at the initiative of Queenstown rather than London.

Bailey and Ryan, after consulting the Admiralty signal books, have a very simple explanation for this message of 1102. The mysterious message was nothing but a codeword, "Questor," to ask a ship which edition of the Merchant Vessel Code it was holding; LUSITANIA's reply, "Westrona," indicated that she held the first edition. Queenstown then went on to pass two submarine warnings to LUSITANIA, the specifics of which are not mentioned.

Bailey and Ryan mention another obvious problem with Simpson's scenario. LUSITANIA was heading east, not north or northeast toward Queenstown, at the time she was torpedoed. They might have mentioned an equally glaring discrepancy. Simpson's violent turn to port occurs at 1215 Greenwich Mean Time. LUSITANIA at this time was about twenty miles off the coast and 45 nautical miles southwest of Queenstown. She was torpedoed at 1410 GMT. Whether making 18 knots (her approximate speed when hit) or 21 knots (her maximum speed with the six deactivated boilers), she would in one hour and 55 minutes have been almost in Queenstown by 1410, rather than thirty-some miles south-southwest of the port. It also seems unlikely that a high-speed run toward the shore of nearly two hours before LUSITANIA's sinking would have completely escaped notice at the time and since.

Many of Colin Simpson's distortions are infuriating. In the end the Queenstown-diversion saga is merely baffling.

[Sources for the Queenstown-diversion question: Simpson pp. 145-47, ch. 11; 175-76, ch. 14; 199-200, ch. 16; 220-22 and 226-27, ch. 17; Bailey and Ryan, pp. 138-40]


Beyond the direct evidence contradicting the conspiracy thesis is the extremely dubious logic of any such plot, resting as it would on the assumption that the liner and the U-boat could be steered into each other and that the sinking of a British liner would result inevitably in a U.S. declaration of war on Germany. Winston Churchill would have been extremely naive about both the temperament of Woodrow Wilson and the state of U.S. military preparedness to have any such notion. Not only did the United States not come close to war with Germany in the aftermath of the disaster, but it would be difficult even to demonstrate that LUSITANIA set in motion an inexorable slide toward war; U.S. relations with the Allies and the Central Powers did not follow a linear course after May 1915, and in fact in late 1916 Washington's relations with the Allies were worse than they had been at any time since the start of the war.

Bailey and Ryan spend a few pages on the broader ramifications of the conspiracy theory. Some of their arguments are rather weak-- Winston Churchill wrote an article in 1937 that strongly condemned the sinking of LUSITANIA, and "this was not the kind of account that one would expect from a statesman harboring a guilty conscience." They make the assertion, plausible but certainly not conclusive, that Britain did not even desire U.S. entry into the war, and the stronger point that Britain at this early stage of the war was not sufficiently desperate for Churchill to conceive of such a plot. They do ultimately sum up the case against the conspiracy well: "Churchill could have been capable of plotting to sink the LUSITANIA, provided that four preconditions had existed. First, Britain would have had to need America badly as an ally. Second, Churchill would have had to have good reason to expect that the United States would fight in in response to the sinking of a valuable British ship. Third, the risk of engineering a plot that involved a considerable number of people would have had to be minimal. Finally, the odds would have had to be heavily in favor of a chain of happenings: a single steamer, while zigzagging at full speed in midchannel [as Turner was directed but failed to do; discussed below], would have had to encounter one of the relatively scarce German submarines in the Irish Channel and then suffer complete destruction, with horrible loss of life. Churchill was no fool. As none of these four preconditions existed, or could have been reasonably thought to exist, we have to dismiss the charge that the First Lord was guilty of premeditated mass murder for reasons of state, including all-encompassing national security." To this statement of Bailey and Ryan's we should add the well-documented succession of warning messages as compelling evidence against any such conspiracy. [Bailey and Ryan, pp. 186-91]

Notes for this Section

Note 1: On 19 August 1915 the British freighter NICOSIAN, hauling mules from New Orleans to England, was stopped by U-27 about seventy miles from Queenstown. The submarine fired a warning shot and the crew abandoned ship. The British ship BARALONG, ostensibly a cargo ship but in reality a Q-ship, came on the scene, flying an American flag (this is generally regarded, perhaps surprisingly, as legitimate ruse of war, provided the ship's true colors are displayed before she opens fire). When about a hundred yards from U-27 BARALONG raised her British colors and opened fire, sinking U-27. About six Germans, including the captain, were shot in the water. About six others boarded the deserted NICOSIAN. Royal Marines boarded NICOSIAN with orders to take no prisoners, and the defenseless German sailors were hunted down and shot. Although early British accounts denied that an atrocity had occurred, the incidence was witnessed by neutral American mule-handlers from NICOSIAN who had no reason to invent such a story. [Bailey and Ryan, pp. 50-51; Devlin, pp. 413-18](Return to text)

Note 2: Hood is wrongly described by Simpson as a vice admiral. He was in temporary eclipse after serving as commander at Dover, when his superiors believed that U-boats were slipping by his forces and transiting the Channel. When it was discovered that the submarines were rounding the north of the British Isles Hood returned to favor, and in late May 1915 was given commander of Battlecruiser Squadron 3. He was killed in INVINCIBLE when she blew up at Jutland. While both Simpson and Bailey and Ryan describe Coke as a vice admiral, A.A. and Mary Hoehling are almost certainly right in calling him a rear admiral in their 1956 book, "The Last Voyage of the Lusitania"; a local defense command was not the province of three-star admiral. Apart from these LUSITANIA books I can find no mention of Coke in any naval histories of the war, including the multi-volume histories by Corbett, Marder, and Frothingham. (Return to text)

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